Red China Blues

Today was one of “those” days that are occupational hazards for people like me. First, the raw data. It’s eight o’clock in Alberta; that means it’s ten tomorrow morning in China, which means I’m into my twenty-ninth hour of waking life today/yesterday. I’ve been in four cities – Guangzhou, Beijing, Vancouver, and Calgary – and an equal number of airports. In China my planes spent two-and-a-half hours idling on the tarmac; in Vancouver I successfully boarded the first of four potential standby flights home.

And now I’m here, and in another fourteen hours I’ll be at Calgary airport waiting to fly to Toronto.

Anyway. I don’t tend to complain about air travel because now matter how “routine” it’s still a miracle. Think about it: today, I was one of millions of people who loaded themselves into metallic cylinders so they could be propelled them from one side of the world to another. Chaotic travel stories simply bear repeating because they’re an almost universal source of mirth: if you’ve ever flown you’ve likely got one and if you fly as often as I do they inevitably happen more often. In Guangzhou we spent an hour-and-a-half at the gate for no discernible reason. Upon arrival in Beijing I was part of a group that was escorted from the gangway to a shuttle bus to a special entrance to the airport’s international terminal…only to discover we’d actually been led to the wrong flight. A second unexplained gate delay, this one an hour long, ensured that I missed my flight from Vancouver to Calgary, which is how I ended up in a security line overseen by an extremely large man with an extremely ironic Napoleonic complex. In the end – I think – a gate agent took pity on me and bumped me up the standby list. In the end it meant an additional fifty minutes in Vancouver; it was very nearly an additional four-and-a-half hours, and I’m at least partly convinced a lucky Australian penny helped me avoid that fate.

In the end I spent less than seventy-two hours in China. My overwhelming impression of this, my first-ever visit, won’t be the pollution, although it really does have to be experienced to be believed. No, it’ll be spending nearly as much time travelling to and from China as I spent in China itself, picking up a couple good stories along the way, and marvelling, as ever, in the miracle of travel.


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